Welcome to today’s show, Planet of the Apes (1968), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Planet of the Apes (1968). Because of where I grew up, I missed the summer of love. But I lived through a time from 1968 to 1973 where five, count um, five “Planet of the Apes” movies came out. Of course, they got progressively worse, but that not the point. How often do you get to see a movie and its’ four sequels over a six year period? I’m still waiting to catch the last of those mocking-whatever movies.
Anyway, these movies represent a pretty exciting jump in the Sci-fi genre. The premise is not so much evolution or devolution, but role reversal. An article by Peter M. Nicholsaug does a pretty good job showing how this movie relates to the war in Vietnam and the racial struggles at home. He takes it through the other four films as well.
This movie is listed in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” Steven Schneider, editor and it was in the top 400 of AFIs selection list for the top 100 Films of All Time.
Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” worked on the screen play but had to turn it over to someone else to finish it. He is responsible for the final scene.
Before we get much further, I wanted to take a second to discusses apes versus monkeys. The most obvious difference between these two is that monkeys have tails while apes do not. Great apes, also known as hominids include orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, and the genus Homo. This last group includes us and all our ancient ancestors.
We can now jump right into our actors. We have two show veterans today.
Charlton Heston plays time traveling astronaut George Taylor. Heston was covered in Episode 44 – The Omega Man (1971).
James Whitmore plays an orangutan that is President of the Assembly. Whitmore was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).
Roddy McDowall played the role of Cornelius, a chimpanzee archeologist. And that is not as rare as you might think. Metaphorically speaking. McDowall was born in England in 1928. His mother pushed him into an acting career and by the age of 5, he was in Murder in the Family (1938). When World War II began, McDowall and some of his family moved to the US. It wasn’t long before this child star was in the John Ford directed How Green Was My Valley (1941). He was in other family movies such as like My Friend Flicka (1943), Lassie Come Home (1943), and Thunderhead – Son of Flicka (1945). At 18, he moved to the east coast and acted on Broadway and in Shakespeare festivals. He was extremely prolific in television and had an amazing movie career as an adult.
He continued to work in family films such as That Darn Cat! (1965), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), The Black Hole (1979), and The Cat from Outer Space (1978). However he was not short of adult material starring in movies such as The Longest Day (1962) with every other actor they could catch, Cleopatra (1963), Lord Love a Duck (1996), a western 5 Card Stud (1968), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Funny Lady (1975), the sequel to Funny Girl (1968), Circle of Iron (1978) a kung-fu film ruined by Jeff Cooper, Overboard (1978), The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997), and as a voice actor in A Bug’s Life (1998).
However, to me, his greatest roles were in four of the five ape movies: Planet of the Apes (1968), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). I would be a horrible person if I left out his role as Peter Vincent, late-night horror movie show host turned vampire killer in Fright Night (1985) and Fright Night Part 2 (1988). McDowall died in 1998.
Kim Hunter played the role of Zira, a chimpanzee biologist. Hunter was born in 1922 in Detroit. Hunter was very shy as a child and was drawn out by a local drama teacher, Mrs. Carmine. She studied at the Actors Studio and began working in the theater by late 1939. In 1947, she played “Stella” on Broadway in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Hunter studied at the Pasadena Playhouse as well and while performing in a play, an RKO talent scout spotted her and she signed a seven-year contract. Her first film was the Film Noir The Seventh Victim (1943). Later she reprised her theater role of “Stella” in the film A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). For this role, Hunter won a best-supporting actress Oscar. She was in another Film Noir, Deadline USA (1952) with Humphrey Bogart.
In the 1950s, Hunter was caught up in the net cast by those bastards at the House un-American Activities Committee. It took until 1956 before she started getting roles again. She was quite successful on television and her last film role was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). Hunter died in 2002 at the age of 79.
One of the most intriguing actors in this movie was Maurice Evans as orangutan Dr. Zaius. Evans was born in 1901 in England. As a youth, he worked in his father’s plays and sang in the London choir. He made his professional debut in 1926. He struggled in the theater but had some long run. His English film career never got off the ground.
He traveled to the US around 1934 and made his Broadway debut in 1936. In America, he became a master player of the works of Shakespeare and Shaw. By the time World War II began, Evans was a US citizen and joined the Army where he worked in theater in the Pacific region. Following the war, Evans began appearing in movies that include Gilbert and Sullivan (1953), The War Lord (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), and The Jerk (1979).
However, Evans was more successful on television and he brought Shakespeare to that medium. I remember him most for playing the snobby warlock father of Samantha, who always appeared in evening clothes on televisions “Bewitched” 1964-1971. Evans died in England in 1989 at the age of 87.
The absolutely beautiful Linda Harrison played Nova, a mute human in the ape world. Harrison was born in 1945 in Maryland. At 16, she won her local beauty contest and became a model in the garment district of New York. She returned to Maryland and won a state beauty contest before heading to California for the Miss International contest. During the contest, she was spotted by a 20th Century Fox talent scout. She did a little movie and television work and by 1968 was dating the studio head, Richard D. Zanuck. Apparently, she was pregnant and showing near the end of the filming for Planet of the Apes (1968). She was married to Zanuck for a decade and made a total of 16 films.
Woodrow Parfrey played orangutan Dr. Maximus. Parfrey was born in 1922 in New York City. He worked on Broadway, television, and movies. His specialty was slightly odd characters. He had a unique look and he played that to his advantage. Parfrey’s best known films are The War Lord (1965), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), Papillon (1973), Planet of the Apes (1968), Dirty Harry (1971), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Used Cars (1980), and The Sting II (1983). He also acted in the short-lived television show “The Second Hundred Years” 1967-1968 about a man that survived freezing for over 50 years and came to live with his son who was now thirty years old than his dad.
Buck Kartalian played the role of gorilla Julius. Kartalain was born in 1922 in Michigan. He has a total of 77 acting credits and his best-known movies are Planet of the Apes (1968), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and The Rock (1996). He died in 2016.
It is strange to have two The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) connections in one review. Apes. Josey Wales. I’ll have to ponder that.
The movie begins on a spaceship cruising above the speed of light. Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is talking and recording as we learn the backstory. They have been gone for 6-months and around 700-years have passed on Earth due to time dilation. What I like best about this part is he is smoking a cigar and at one point he sets it down on the console. He gives himself a shot and wonders if earthmen have stopped making war and starving their neighbors.
Taylor goes back to where the three other crew members are already in stasis. He looks at the two males and then takes a long look at the female crew member before entering his own stasis chamber.
Suddenly the ship plummets through a planet’s atmosphere and crashes into a lake. The stasis automatically unlocks and Taylor watches the two men rise and sees they have beards. They are shocked when they look for the female crew member and she is dead because her stasis chamber was cracked. Water starts pouring into the ship and Taylor orders Dodge (Jeff Burton) to check the air quality as Landon (Robert Gunner) tries to send a message.
The ship’s power fails and Taylor, Landon, and Dodge abandon ship. Taylor looks at the ship’s clock on the way out and the year shows 3978. They have been traveling in space for over 2,000 years. The three men have only aged 20 months.
As the three astronauts paddle away, the ship sinks. Taylor notes matter-of-factly that they are here to stay. The crash was shot at Lake Powell and the land around the water is very rocky and looks like it wouldn’t support life. While they are rowing to shore, Taylor says they are near a star in the Orion system, but Landon challenges him because he didn’t have time to read the tapes.
They take stock of their supplies and have food and water for three days, a medical kit, a gun, and a TX9. Whatever that is! Taylor tells them the clock reading and says they have been away from Earth for 2000 years. Dodge confirms that the soil is barren.
Landon leaves behind an American flag and it cracks Taylor up. The three head away for the lake to look for life. I want to take a second to mention the soundtrack. It is discordant and jarring. It really sets the mode for a world turned upside down. Some of these sounds were made using kitchen mixing bowls. Director Franklin J. Schaffner used strange camera angles including hand-held shoot to visually present this effect.
They see lighting flashing and it has the color of atomic sci-fi clouds. Taylor is very cavalier and insensitive to his fellow travelers. Finally, they run into a plant. They promptly dig it up and kill it. Shadowy figures skirt along the rocks above the walkers. The land becomes more vegetative. They find a line of “scarecrow” blocking the way and know the planet has intelligent life. Beyond the scarecrows are lakes and waterfalls. Taylor charges ahead. The three men immediately strip and jump in the water, before checking for alien penis devouring fish. Landon finds human footprints on the beach. Their clothes and supplies are stolen by the shadowy figures.
The three astronauts follow the thieves. As they travel into the forest, they see the planets “people.” Thank god they find their clothes and Heston gets dressed. This was his only nude scene in a movie. The planet people are harvesting food from a tree next to a corn patch. The planet folks freeze for a moment as they hear a horn blow. They all flee and Taylor and company flee as well. Beaters are flushing the humans forward as mounted gorillas fire at them with rifles. And that is go rilla not ga rilla. Thanks Captain Ron.
Landon is clubbed and captured while Dodge, the black guy, is shot and killed. Sci-fi used to be as rough on the black guys as it was on red shirts. Eventually, Taylor is shot in the neck and captured as well.
While it is clear that the apes are capturing some humans, they are shooting others for sport. They later pose with their trophies and take pictures. The humans of the planet cannot speak, but the apes can. Taylor and the captured humans are taken back to a city that has a more or less “Flintstone” look to it. Taylor is taken to a “Vet” where his neck wound is tended to by a chimpanzee. A beautiful human woman is there as well and is used to give him a blood transfusion.
A female chimpanzee, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), runs the lab. He assistant gorilla Julius (Buck Kartalian), doesn’t really like working with humans. Gorillas do the manual task like hosing down the “animals.” Heston was sick during the washing scene and he suffered greatly. Zira tries to get the humans to speak for treats. Zira calls Taylor bright eyes because of his piercing blue eyes. He tries to talk, but the throat wound prevents it. Taylor grabs her just as orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) enters. Zira tries to get Taylor to perform for Dr. Zaius. Dr. Zaius warns Zira about heresy and says he considers humans more of pest that needs to be exterminated.
Zira has the beautiful woman, who would later be called Nova (Linda Harrison) as a mate for Taylor. The structure of ape caste system is slowly revealed. At the top are the orangutans who are the government and ministry, gorillas who are the military and laborer, and chimpanzees that are the scientist and intellectuals. Later we find that chimps are also pacifists.
Taylor and Nova are moved to an outside compound with other humans. Zira’s fiancé, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) comes to visit. He is a chimpanzee archeologist. Nova follows Taylor as Zira and Cornelius come to visit. Taylor starts writing in the sand. Dr. Zaius arrives and he and Cornelius talk about the forthcoming archeological expedition. Dr. Zaius warns Cornelius to make sure that when he digs for artifacts, he doesn’t bury his reputation. Good advice. Nova wipes the marks away and another human male attack Taylor. Gorillas break up the fight with fire. Dr. Zaius requests Cornelius come to talk about the expedition to the “Forbidden Zone (the desert where the astronauts crashed)”, however, he sees the writing before he leaves and wipes it out with his cane.
Taylor is taken to an isolation cage. When Zira gets too close he grabs her pad and pen. He manages to write his name before Julius beats him and takes the pad away. When Zira sees the writing, she takes Taylor back to her house. Cornelius doesn’t believe it even though he sees Taylor write. Taylor shows them on a map where the ship crashed and it may appear to be the US eastern seaboard.
Cornelius believes that his expedition into the Forbidden Zone may prove apes have evolved from a lower order, humans. Dr. Zaius arrives at the house along with Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey) who is the commissioner of Animal Affairs, read as human. Taylor is taken back to the compound wearing a Hannibal Lector mask. Dr. Zaius almost finds Taylor’s writing.
Back in his cage, Taylor overhears the gorillas saying Dr. Zaius has ordered that Taylor is to be castrated. Taylor overpowers Julius and escapes into the village. A wild human running through the town scares the apes. Taylor hides in a church during a gorilla funeral. Taylor escapes and runs through the market as gorillas on horseback give chase. He finally runs into a museum. There are exhibits of stuffed humans, much like used to be in the caveman section of history museums. Finally, Taylor runs into the stuffed body of Dodge. Outside again he is overwhelmed and captures. It is at this point his voice returns and he cries out “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty apes!” This famous line is number 66 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of all Time.
Taylor is returned to the cage with Nova. The gorillas hose the pair down and remove Nova from the cage to a cage across the row. Taylor gets misty for Earth and the old days. Shortly, a group of apes come and get Taylor and deliver him to a large hall or courtroom. Zira and Cornelius come in and Taylor says it has been weeks. They tell him it is a hearing just as Dr. Zaius, Dr. Maximus, and President of the Ministry (James Whitmore) come in. There is an orangutan prosecutor Dr. Honorius (James Daly), and the chimps are the defense.
Taylor tries to speak but they gag him. The charge is the almighty created ape and that studying humans is a crime. Honorius says that Zira has created Taylor through surgery. Honorius quizzes him on religion and Taylor does not have the answers. Taylor’s defense is read by Cornelius to the tribunal. They all go outside to look at the other captured humans.
Rent Planet of the Apes (1968)
Taylor sees Langdon in the crowd and goes to him. However, Landon has been lobotomized by the apes. Taylor freaks out, calls Dr. Zaius a bloody baboon and attacking him. He is quickly put back under control. They drag Taylor back into the courtroom. Dr. Zaius says Landon was wounded and never could speak. When Taylor calls him a liar, he is gagged.
Cornelius states to the council that Taylor could not have come from another planet but he did come from the Forbidden Zone because he accurately described and Cornelius has been there. President of the Ministry takes exception when he finds Cornelius has been to the Forbidden Zone. Dr. Zaius claims Cornelius exceeded his orders. Cornelius says he found evidence of a simian culture that predates the ape culture. When Zira tries to explain that there is no reason why humans can’t talk, the three orangutans do the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil thing. This was something the actors did as a gag but it was left in because it was funny. The tribunal charges Zira and Cornelius with contempt of court, malicious mischief, and scientific heresy.
Taylor is taken to Dr. Zaius’ private room. Dr. Zaius says Zira and Cornelius will be tried and Taylor made that possible. He says Taylor can be saved if he tells the truth. Taylor sticks to his story. Dr. Zaius admits he lobotomized Landon because he could talk and he wanted that truth to be kept from the ape public. Dr. Zaius thinks Taylor comes from a tribe past the Forbidden Zone. Taylor is returned to his cage.
A young chimp, Lucius (Lou Wagner) who is Zira’s nephew comes with an order to remove Taylor. When Julius become suspicious, Lucius and Taylor jump him. Taylor insists that they bring Nova on the escape. They meet Zira outside as she planned the escape. The two chimps and two humans leave Ape City in a horse drawn wagon. Cornelius meets them on the road with fresh horses and supplies. Taylor takes charge and takes one of the weapons. Cornelius and Zira plan to go to the Forbidden Zone to prove they are not heretics. Nova wants to go back to her jungle home, but Taylor convinces her to go with him.
The group of five travel across the desert into the Forbidden Zone until they make it to one of the sweetest dig sites every. It is a nice dry cave overlooking a beautiful blue ocean with a river nearby. Scaffolding leads up to the cave. Taylor wants to know why it is called the Forbidden Zone and no one knows.
Everyone except Zira heads to the cave but they are stopped when Dr. Zaius and a group of gorillas’ rides onto the site. Taylor shoots above Dr. Zaius and he agrees to send the gorillas back and he comes forward. Lucius is left outside to guard and resents being told what to do by older people.
In the cave, Cornelius shows Dr. Zaius his evidence and the level that predates the original ape scrolls. There is a human doll at the earlier human level that says, momma. Taylor identifies false teeth, glasses, and a heart valve. They hear gunfire from outside. The gorillas have jumped Lucius and stolen the horses. Taylor kills one ape and then tricks Dr. Zaius into coming outside. He uses him as a hostage. Lucius says you can’t trust the older generation. Taylor sends word to the gorillas that he will trade Dr. Zaius for food and horses for him and Nova.
Taylor says that man was here first and Dr. Zaius says why did man fail if he was superior. Taylor thinks is was environmental. Dr. Zaius admits he knew about the humans all along from part of the ape scrolls. Dr. Zaius finally admits he fears humans. He says man’s wars created the Forbidden Zone.
Lucius comes back with the horses and supplies. Taylor wants to go to find what happened to his culture in the Forbidden Zone. Taylor reminds Lucius to stay rebellious and never trust anyone over 30. Taylor then kisses Zira goodbye, which I believe is the first interspecies kiss in a movie.
Dr. Zaius tells Taylor to be careful in the Forbidden Zone because he will not like what he finds. Dr. Zaius stops the gorillas from following Taylor and Nova. Dr. Zaius orders the entrance to the cave to be blown up and that Zira and Cornelius will still stand trial. Dr. Zaius says Taylor will find his destiny in the Forbidden Zone.
Taylor and Nova ride along the beach for some time. Taylor finally sees something protruding from the sand. It is the torch of the Statue of Liberty. Taylor realizes he has been on Earth the whole time and that humans had destroyed the Earth with wars. The camera pulls back to show the statue as Taylor states “Maniacs! You finally blew it all up!” Taylor screams in despair. “God damn you all to hell!”
The screen fades to black.
John Chambers did the ape make-up using a method he used during World War II to reconstructed the faces of disfigured veterans. There were over 80 make-up artists working on this project. Chambers held training sessions for the other make-up artists. Since there was no category for make-up until 1981, John Chambers was awarded an honorary Oscar. Walter Matthau and a chimpanzee wearing a tuxedo presented the award.
Since the make-up took so long to put on, actors and extra could not remove it during breaks. They had to eat liquids through straws and smoke using cigarette holders that were provided. For some reason, the actors and extras tended to self-sort by the species they were made up as. Roddy McDowall, an experienced actor, taught the others to use tics and facial gestures. He can be seen noticeably sniffing during the movie, a habit common to great apes.
This movie was rated G, although it contained nudity. The only other time this happened was in The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966). The censors wanted Taylor’s tirade at the end to be taken out. However, Heston explained that he was not cursing God, but simply calling on God to curse them for what they had done, and it was left in this G movie.
Now it is presumed that Taylor and Nova traveled north for a few days before they find the statue. That would mean that most of the events of the movie took place in what was New Jersey. I took basic training in New Jersey. A world ruled by apes? I could see it.
Final note – There are no female gorillas or female orangutans in the movie. No wonder they were so mean.
World-Famous Short Summary – Boy meets a nice girl while traveling
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Beware the moors
 Joseph Collura, “Classic Images”, October 2009